WWWednesday: August 11, 2021

Debris Poster from NBCDebris premiered on NBC in 2021. The network canceled it after one season. (You can find it On Demand if you really want to.) I’m not surprised they canceled it. The show never gained traction with the audience, and this was because it never found its footing as a story.

There are several good things about the show, which I will list. You can decide if they are enough to make you watch.

The pluses include:

  • Excellent special effects
  • Some good performances
  • John Noble (plus and minus)
  • Beautiful and strange “Debris” pieces—kudos to the props department
  • Great use of ending credits to advance the story (plus and minus).

The story seems to be set in this reality in the present day. Finola Jones and Bryan Beneventi are intelligence agents, she from MI6, he from… the CIA (maybe?), both assigned to Orbital, a multinational team scouring the earth for scraps of wreckage from a derelict interstellar spacecraft. The debris—or Debris–has unusual physical properties and humans who interact with it experience strange effects. A small part of Season One is the idea that major global players like China and Russia are also running around snatching up as much Debris as they can, but of more immediate concern to Orbital is an independent group called Influx, which behaves like a terrorist cell.

Finola and Bryan approach the work with very different mindsets. (Does this sound familiar?) Soon, we learn that Finola’s father, a prominent astrophysicist who worked with Orbital committed suicide about six months ago. (Anyone who thinks he’s really dead, raise your hand. Now I’m shaking my head at you in a disappointed manner. Do you watch zero television?) Finola still worries at the puzzle of “why” of her father’s apparent demise, as she’s also gathering up scraps of Debris and having esoteric debates with Bryan.

A friend of mine identified a key deficit of the show by Episode Three. “There’s no humor,” he said. “How can there be absolutely no humor?” And he’s right. The problems only begin there, though. While the character of Bryan’s treacherous boss Maddox is well drawn, and we come to understand and even sympathize with his motives, other characters aren’t, and there is little chemistry between Bryan and Finola. This is baffling given the obvious skill of Jonathan Tucker (Bryan) and Rainn Steel (Finola). However, for an SF mystery-thriller, the show’s inability to unfurl its story is a bigger problem. The debris clearly has a purpose and a plan, and even though its dangerous, it seems like its intent for humanity isn’t bad. They do manage to get that across, but not much else. I think this is the risk of “high-concept.” I picture a meeting (maybe it was a Zoom meeting) where people said, “Let’s do Fringe, only with space junk falling to earth!” Then someone said, “With a Scully/Mulder vibe!” and there we were.

And—surprise! Finola’s dad George is alive!

The season squandered two—two!—full episodes on the Groundhog Day concept. Seriously. If you touch a certain piece of underwater Debris offshore in Washington State, and wish for something, that thing happens, only you’ve changed reality. A young man accidentally wishes his twin sister away and now he wants her back, so he’s basically put the entire multiverse on Shuffle Play. This might be clever, and clearly, as the various other realities “bleed through” with the lovely golden light we associate with the Debris (great effects, remember), there seem to be some clues to Season Two… if only there were going to be one. But they spent two episodes! And most of it seemed to be, run through the trees, run across the rocks, jump into the water. Run through the trees, run across the rocks, jump into the water. First Bryan and the brother. Then Finola and the sister. I lost track of how many times, and I lost the thread of the plot. If there was one. This was a terrible story-telling decision.

There is humor in the show’s penultimate episode, when not-dead George Jones scurries around a defunct satellite compound wrapped in an aluminum foil cape. That was funny.

The show’s final episode reeked of desperation. The episode brings in Magical Native Americans, hints at a duplicate Finola, and confirms everything we’ve already figured out so far—namely, that George works for Influx. In this last episode we see John Noble as an Influx uber-villain for a good part of the show, which begs the question: if you have the amazing John Noble playing a villain, why haven’t you used him sooner?

And finally, those closing credits. Under the closing credits, there’s been radio chatter each episode. These are the transcripts of the first human approach to the derelict interstellar craft (presumably while it was still in space? I don’t know).  At first, it’s general. As the show progresses, the radio comments are more specific and we start hearing names we recognize. This is how we learn that Bryan was the “third man” to actually interact with the craft. This, plus a last name that’s really close to “welcome” in Italian, seem to be clues about his relationship with the Debris, but it’s too little too late. Unlike shows that fostered a huge social media following, like X-Files and Fringe (X-Files was a bulletin-board favorite years before other social media), there was no good way to clue in viewers that you should listen to the end credits, so a good idea was wasted.

“Wasted” and “Squandered” are terms I keep coming back to with this show. There was a great idea here, one original enough that it didn’t have to keep putting on the costumes of other great shows. Somehow, “just be yourself” didn’t resonate for the creators, and the show just failed to launch.


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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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2 comments

  1. Sandy Ferber /

    To quote from an old Frank Zappa song, “Look here, brother,
    Who you jivin’ with that Cosmik Debris?”

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